The McCartney sisters: Women's Week

Seven women dominated the week. Catherine, Claire, Donna, Paula and Gemma McCartney, Bridgeen Hagans and Anne McCabe. All were at the White House for a St Patrick's Day reception. All represented a determination to rid Ireland of paramilitary murder, violence and criminality.



The McCartney sisters seemed to veer beyond the simple issue of justice and retribution for the murder of their brother, Robert. Commenting on Sinn Féin's alleged co-operation with the inquiry into her brother's murder, and apparent inconsistencies in statements of a Sinn Féin election candidate who may have had relevant evidence concerning the murder, Catherine McCartney said: "Ultimately, this person could have been sitting as a government minister, overlooking policing and justice. This is an accountable political party. I think people are intelligent enough to figure out themselves whether this is the type of party they want running the country".

The remark caused Martin McGuinness to advise the McCartneys against becoming embroiled in party politics.

The reverberations from the murder of Robert McCartney have changed the agenda. Now, central to any future agreement on the restoration of the Good Friday institutions is the disbandment of the IRA and an end to all criminality.

A further consequence has been the engagement of Sinn Féin with the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and the judicial process. During the week, both Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness were critical of the police for not arresting suspects for the murder and for not following through on evidence. Gerry Adams asserted at the Press Club in Washington on Thursday that in his view, there was sufficient evidence available to charge people with the murder.

The killers of Garda Jerry McCabe in Adare in June 1996 issued a statement from Castlereagh prison expressing regret for the killing and stating that their release should no longer be part of any political settlement. The widow of Jerry McCabe, Anne McCabe, said the apology was too little, too late. Bertie Ahern said it was helpful, if irrelevant, for the release of the prisoners was no longer open for negotiation.

Two of the killers instituted judicial review proceedings in the High Court in Dublin to secure their release under the Good Friday agreement and there is a prospect the application could be successful, thereby securing the early release of the prisoners through the courts.

Relations between Dublin and Washington seem more amicable than currently between Dublin and London. Bertie Ahern presented George Bush with a bowl of shamrock on 17 March. Meanwhile, the Irish government has indicated it may institute proceedings at the European Court of Human Rights against the British government over its refusal to co-operate with the inquiries into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings.

Now there has emerged a further disagreement concerning a public inquiry into the murder of Belfast solicitor, Pat Finucane. An Inquiries Bill introduced at Westminster, on which any such inquiry would be based, would permit an inquiry to be conducted in part in private and would exclude any evidence from such inquiry the British government considered sensitive for security reasons.

The Canadian judge, Peter Cory, who undertook a preliminary investigation of the Finucane and other murders and who recommended a public inquiry, said: "I don't know how any self-respecting Canadian judge would be part of (an inquiry) in the light of the restrictions on independence it would impose".

Fianna Fáil lost by-elections in Meath and North Kildare. There have been reports that the North Kildare by-election was lost because party workers there refused to canvass. They were unhappy with the perceived removal of Charlie McCreevy from government and his "exile" to Brussels.

In Meath there were reports that the turn out in the home areas of two sitting Fianna Fáil TDs, Noel Dempsey and Mary Wallace, was very low, suggesting that they failed to mobilise their supporters behind the party candidate. Sinn Féin increased its share of the poll in Meath from 9.4 per cent in the 2002 general election to 12.3 per cent, a performance perceived as remarkable given the welter of negative publicity the party encountered since the Northern Bank robbery on 20 December and the subsequent murder of Robert McCartney.

The Meath by-election was won by Shane McEntee of Fine Gael and Catherine Murphy, an independent candidate, won in North Kildare.

Sr Helena O'Donoghue of the Sisters of Mercy, rejected allegations of extreme physical punishment, starvation or malnourishment at Goldenbridge industrial school. She was speaking at a public session of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse.

She said that from the 1940s there were 185 children at the school at any one time, with a staff ration of one to every 30 plus children. The staff had no training in childcare and the capitation grant was inadequate. She acknowledged that corporal punishment was used to maintain discipline but expressed regret that such punishment was used in the case of bed-wetting.

On Monday, 14 March, €2 was stolen from a Securicore van in the Strawberry Beds area of west Dublin. Initially the IRA was the suspected culprit but focus quickly shifted to a Dublin gang of middle aged criminals who were suspected of a similar robbery some years previously.

Vincent Browne